President Barack Obama’s recent removal of restrictions on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines has prompted an ongoing and hearty debate in Bioethics Forum, an online publication of The Hastings Center, Garrison, NY.

The debate began with a March 25 commentary by 10 of the 18 members of the President’s Council on Bioethics, which was appointed by President George W. Bush. The authors took issue with President Obama’s action, contending that Bush’s policy was inaccurately characterized and was advancing research within ethical norms more effectively than Obama’s policy will, and that the Obama policy inadequately addresses the risk of reproductive cloning. Council Chairman Edmund Pellegrino, MD, wrote a separate personal statement supporting "the substance of the objections of some Council members."

Two rejoinders rapidly followed. Insoo Hyun wrote an essay titled Clarifying the President’s Council’s Clarification of the Obama Stem Cell Policy. Hyun teaches bioethics at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, chairs the Ethics and Public Policy Committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and co-chairs the ISSCR’s Task Force on Guidelines for the Clinical Translation of Stem Cells. Hyun outlines why he was "greatly disappointed by [the Council members’] overreaching claims and potentially misleading analyses," which he deems "seriously flawed." He concludes, "As the Obama stem cell policy moves forward, it is my hope that the scientific and ethical complexities of all forms of stem cell research are fully appreciated and explored. To do this, one needs a firm grasp of the technical realities and limitations of the science underlying the social debate."

Hastings Center scholar Josephine Johnston also raises objections in The New Stem Cell Policy and Public Opinion, writing, "There is no policy that will satisfy the moral convictions of all Americans….So while the members of the President’s Council are right that the new policy will very likely violate the convictions of many, it will likely accord with the convictions of most."

Responses are received daily; check the Forum to read them.

The Hastings Center is a nonpartisan bioethics research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest since 1969. It is a pioneer in collaborative interdisciplinary research and dialogue on the ethical and social impact of advances in health care and the life sciences. The Center draws on a worldwide network of experts to frame and examine issues that inform professional practice, public conversation, and social policy.

[Source: The Hastings Center]